An unsuccessful candidate for state attorney general can't pursue his defamation lawsuit against a Wisconsin newspaper, a state appeals court ruled Tuesday.
The 3rd District Court of Appeals ruled Vince Biskupic's libel and slander lawsuit against the Shawano Leader and an administrator of a domestic abuse prevention program was properly dismissed.
The three-judge panel said Biskupic was a public figure and there was no evidence the newspaper acted with malice in incorrectly reporting he was involved in bribery and graft as the Outagamie County district attorney.
Biskupic, who is now a private attorney in Appleton, was disappointed in the ruling, and no decision had been made whether to ask the state Supreme Court to review the case, said his attorney, John Peterson.
It's "unfortunate" that a newspaper can breech "traditional journalistic standards and not be held accountable for what they have done," Peterson said.
Biskupic, a Republican, lost the 2002 attorney general's election. During the campaign, an open records request revealed he struck deals with some defendants to avoid prosecution in exchange for payments to local anti-crime groups and his privately operated crime-prevention fund.
A Wisconsin Ethics Board investigation concluded in 2003 that it had concerns about Biskupic's practice but he did not profit personally from the fund and was not affiliated with any organization that received money from it. Biskupic, the prosecutor in Outagamie County from 1994 to 2003, was not sanctioned.
Before he worked in Outagamie County, Biskupic was an assistant district attorney in Winnebago County. The district attorney there, Joe Paulus, was convicted in 2004 for taking bribes and fixing criminal cases from 1998 to 2000. He was sentenced to 58 months in prison.
Biskupic's defamation lawsuit stemmed from an August 2004 Shawano Leader story reporting that the Ninth Judicial Circuit voted to stop judges from ordering convicted defendants to pay money to nonprofit organizations.
The story quoted Stacey Cicero, executive director of Safe Haven, a domestic abuse prevention program, as saying courts had been ordering defendants convicted of domestic abuse to pay $20 to programs such as hers and that money would now be lost.
"I believe it was done in response to the bribery and graft cases involving former Winnebago County District Attorney Vince Biskupic," the newspaper quoted Cicero as saying.
The story said Biskupic was convicted of accepting bribes to dismiss cases.
The newspaper corrected the story the next day, reporting Paulus was convicted of accepting bribes. The paper ran a second correction on its front page in September 2004 in response to a letter from Biskupic, court records said.
Biskupic sued Cicero for slander and the newspaper for libel in 2005, contending that by August 2004 he was a private citizen, not a public figure of any kind.
The appeals court rejected that notion, saying Biskupic remained in the public spotlight because of the publicity about his crime-prevention fund and the probe of Paulus.